April 29, 2011

National Poetry Month: The Ponds

I've been thinking a lot about imperfection, how striving for it rarely brings anything other than distress and frustration. We should know better (well, let's just say that I should know better). Perfection, after all, is a Platonic ideal, and like that green light at the end of Daisy's dock in The Great Gatsby, it's unreachable, unattainable. And more important, it's not real. The time we spend seeking illusion is time lost.
The words Mary Oliver uses to describe the lillies in this poem (yep, another one) --"lopsided," "slumped," "unstoppable decay"-- stand in for our "difficult world." But along with these imperfections there's light, lots of it. Brings to mind the words of Leonard Cohen's gorgeous song, Anthem: "there is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in." Amen to that.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them –

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided –
and that one wears an orange blight –
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away –
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled –
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing –
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

--Mary Oliver

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